Because neither my partner nor I had been to a literary festival before, we didn’t know how our time would be spent, so it made sense to check the programme and pick out specific events to attend. When I ran through them, though, there weren’t many that appealed to me, and certainly not on days we’d both be free to go. In the end, my partner picked a talk by Kate Mosse and an interview with Ruth Ware, both taking place on the same day.
As it turned out, we were busier than expected that morning so arrived later than planned, and our initial intention to wander around and soak in the atmosphere was cast aside. Instead, we headed straight to the box office to collect our tickets. When I say box office, it was little more than a trestle table inside the entrance to the Town Hall, and we actually walked past it twice because there was only a schoolboy sitting there.
We did, eventually, work it out and, tickets secured and conscious we hadn’t had lunch (it was 3:30 and Kate Mosse was due on in an hour), we hustled into a nearby pub.
We returned to the Town Hall just in time to grab back row seats for the performance – the room was packed! I say performance, because it was – and I mean that in a good way. As someone who’s been involved in public speaking for years, I know how hard it is to make a talk look natural, and Miss Mosse’s talk – about the chain of events that led her to write her most recent novel, plus other anecdotes about her writing career – seemed effortless.
Anyone with a reasonable knowledge of the literary world will be aware of her, and I like to think I’ve got such knowledge. I did watch a TV adaptation of Labyrinth a few years ago but, aside from that, my awareness of her work is next to nothing. Still, even though her talk wasn’t my choice, having seen her in action, and listened to what she had to say, I do feel a need to try one of her books. No promises when, but she’s now on the list.
When she’d finished, we had just under half an hour to wait for our next meeting, and Marlborough isn’t a big place, so that should have been plenty of time. Making an incorrect assumption about where the venue was, combined with a diversion to the car park to drop off a bag (which resulted in another diversion when I remembered the tickets were in the bag!) meant we were running late for Ruth Ware.
As it turned out, this event was severely under-subscribed and the host and author seemed content to give more time for late-comers to arrive. Unlike Kate Mosse, Miss Ware had been allocated a church hall barely a quarter of the size of the previous venue. It was also over three-quarters empty.
We reflected on this afterwards. Clearly Mosse is more established and has a bigger following, so it was inevitable that interest would be much greater. My own awareness of Ruth Ware was fairly recent, as I’d seen several reviews of her new book, The Death of Mrs Westaway, and made a mental note to read it when the TBR list was shorter. My partner had read one of her earlier books, so we both had a little interest in listening to her. Even so, the disparity in attendance was striking.
The approach taken was also quite different. Another author (I’m ashamed to say I can’t recall his name) acted as host and interviewer. So, whereas Mosse was left to regale us with what she had come to say, Ware had questions to answer. Not that it was an interrogation. Instead, the tone was conversational and provided insights to her other books, her writing habits and even her home life. It turns out authors have normal home lives too. Who knew?
With opportunities at the end for questions from the audience as well, it felt inclusive and relaxed and, if anything, I came away from that talk with more than I had from Kate Mosse’s. And I don’t just mean because we bought a copy of the new book.
By the time we reached the car, it was dark and we headed home with lots to talk about. We hadn’t really known what to expect, but listening to these authors talking about their writing had left us both inspired to get on and do more of our own. And we were already speculating as to what it would be like at Henley a few days later.